CPA INSIDER

The must-have items for traveling accountants

Learn from what these frequent travelers pack to make life on the road easier.
By Sarah Ovaska

The coronavirus epidemic ground business travel to a halt this year. But eventually, as the health situation begins to improve, some organizations will slowly begin sending staff out on the road again.

Knowing what to pack to get through the rigors of business travel has always been more of an art than a science. We talked with three CPAs who spent a fair bit of time traveling before the epidemic to hear what they make sure they have for each and every trip. Their tips might help if you're one of the folks who will find yourself back on the road when the COVID-19 crisis is over.

Pre-packed and ready to go

Rick Reisig, CPA, shareholder at the Montana firm of Anderson ZurMuehlen, estimates he spent a week each month flying to meetings and other professional engagements before the virus interrupted his routine.

He keeps a carry-on backpack with all his essentials in his office so that when it's time to go, he can grab it and know that most of what he needs is inside.

His technology must-haves include a Bluetooth-enabled mouse, phone charger, two sets of headphones in case one pair is misplaced, laptop cords, and a battery charger with multiple connectors so he can charge whatever device needs juice.  

He prefers to get work-related writing and presentations done on the plane, finding the background hum of the plane helpful for concentration.

"That's when I get my best writing in," he said.

He also makes sure he has Gear Ties, reusable twist ties to keep his power cords wrapped up and contained. Personal items include gum, toothbrush, and toothpaste, as well as extra contact lenses, eyedrops, and his glasses. Granola bars are in the bag too, so he can fuel up if he ends up running to make a connecting flight with no time to stop for food.

Reisig's glasses case serves a dual purpose. In a travel hack he picked up from a fellow business road warrior, he uses the open case to prop up his smartphone on the plane so he can watch videos and scroll through emails.

In his main checked bag, he makes sure he has shoe polish for any last-minute shines, an umbrella, and a Bluetooth speaker to listen to satellite radio in his hotel room.

It's not just planes Reisig travels in. The firm has seven offices across Montana, meaning he also logs a lot of miles on the state's highways. In case he runs into trouble on the road, he makes sure the trunk has emergency supplies such as a travel blanket, a shovel, a winter coat, hat, and gloves. As he drives, he uses his satellite radio subscription to make time fly by.

Making sure necessary devices work

Alan Long, CPA/CITP, CGMA, managing member of Baldwin CPAs in Richmond, Ky., also spends a fair bit of time traveling and has figured out over time what he needs to ensure his trip goes smoothly.

Long is a self-declared Mac guy, and he brings with him on trips a 13-inch MacBook Pro, chosen because of its relative lightness. He sometimes swaps that for an iPad with an attachable keyboard when he wants to travel even lighter.

"There's a lot of meetings I can go to with an iPad where I don't really have to have a computer," he said.

His beloved Apple products need to be recharged at night, and one of his most essential travel items is an Oittm charging stand he brings to revive his Apple watch in his hotel room.

"That's very important for me to have," Long said.

He also brings along a portable battery to charge his laptop, which comes in handy when his laptop has been run down all day in meetings and he hasn't had time to recharge it before hopping on a plane home.

"I usually don't use it," Long said. "But when you need it, it's really nice when you have it."

He also keeps a toiletry bag and shaving kit packed for travel so that he doesn't run the chance of missing any essentials when packing for trips.

Trimmed-down traveling

Jim Burton, CPA, partner-in-charge of audit methodology and standards at Grant Thornton, has gotten his travel routine down to a science. He's had plenty of opportunity to practice — Burton had work trips planned 43 weeks out of the year in 2019. One international trip had him presenting in Shanghai at the start of a week and Amsterdam at the end.

Based in Denver, Burton has a minimalist approach to travel: If he can't carry it onto a plane, it gets left behind.

He does a lot of work in airports but avoids the publicly offered Wi-Fi networks because of security concerns, using his phone as a hotspot instead. Burton, who also is chair of the AICPA's Assurance Services Executive Committee, also brings along a 5000mAh power cube for when any of his USB-powered devices needs a charge. He advises getting one with a 2.1A USB output as the charge is much faster. He also saves magazines and reading materials, related to work or his personal interests, to take on the plane to read when electronic devices need to be shut down.

Once he's landed, Burton has apps loaded on his phone to make the next leg of travel easier, including a taxi payment app, a ride-sharing app like Lyft or Uber, or an app to make restaurant reservations, such as OpenTable.

"Using these really makes the 'last mile' of travel easier," he said.

Because Burton travels so much, he makes sure he gets in some downtime, so he isn't working around the clock. He will work if it's in his normal working hours, but if he's flying at night or on the weekends, he uses that time as personal time.

"I've binge-watched many shows while in flight," he said. That said, he added, "it is important to make sure the content is acceptable for any mischievous children who might be looking over your shoulder."

Work travel can be stressful and uncomfortable at times, but when you have items to make things go smoothly, it can end up being tolerable, and maybe even pleasant.

Sarah Ovaska is a freelance writer based in North Carolina. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, a JofA associate director, at Chris.Baysden@aicpa-cima.com.

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